All Images: Junior
A small intimate bar housed within a bigger space. With only 10 seats – filled on a first come first serve basis – Junior is elusive and inconspicuous. Located within Tanjong Pagar’s restaurant Crackerjack and in true hole-in-the-wall fashion, you enter from the back alley on Cook Street.
Just don’t call it a speakeasy - as co-head barman Zachary de Git points out, “there’s a clear sign on the outside” and it’s definitely not an illegal establishment.
Brought to you by The Proof Collective, the folks behind cult favourite 28 Hong Kong Street, Proof and Company, and Crackerjack, its purpose is innovation. “Opening Junior gives us the opportunity to explore crazy, creative ideas,” says Zdenek Kastanek, GM of the company’s three establishments. “It allows us to experiment in areas of interest, and to celebrate concepts in a way that some of the world’s largest and most mature cocktail cities – like New York City and London – have not been able to do.”
What this means is Junior will be the hotbed for conceptual-based cocktails with hard-to-find spirits, which the bartenders will hone their craft on. Mimicking the way that art galleries change exhibitions, it will focus on one core subject every six months.
Junior’s first concept NORMA is inspired by the official series of compulsory standards for Mexican spirits Norma Oficial Mexicana (NOM), following co-head barmen Peter Chua and Zachary's trip to Mexico for inspiration and research for the introductory menu. Agave spirits, which are having a moment as the fastest growing category in spirits worldwide, take centre stage. Bottles are hand-carried from Mexico. Some of which are the first of their kind in Asia, including a selection of curated artisanal and ancestral mescals that are wild and hard to come by. “Some of the tequila distilleries sourced from include Fortaleza, created by Guillermo Erickson Sauza, now a fifth-generation tequila producer,” says Zachary. “He reopened a rustic distillery using traditional methods not commonly used today.”
The Norma Menu at Junior comprises of four main sections: tequila, mescal, tasting flights and cocktails. Among its repertoire of drinks include the Mezkale Sour ($21), a fresh, earthy, bitter, and spicy medley thanks to its kale and citrus ingredients. The firewater - made from habanero peppers - also lends a spicy kick. If tart tipples tickle your fancy, give this intriguing alternative to Mad Men favourite Whiskey Sour a try. Distilled from the agave plant, mescal is the light and sweet tequila’s heavier and smokier sibling. Sip slowly.
For those with a penchant for fixtures on the sweeter side of the spectrum, the Cisco Kid drink ought to be right up your alley. Named after the song by Californian funk band War, which was inspired by a 1950s TV show of the same name, this Cisco Kid drink ($24) is a frothy fruity concoction created using ArteNOM 1146 Añejo Tequila, spiced red wine, lemon, raspberry, and East Imperial Grapefruit Tonic. A soft comforting caramel companion, we found this delightfully easy to drink.
Elsewhere on the menu is The Vampiro, a tequila-based Mexican interpretation of the Bloody Mary. Prices depend on your choice of base spirit and can range from $14 (if you choose a 30ml pour of Cimarron Blanco) to $111 (if you opt for an aged 21-year-old 45ml Fuenteseca). Its ingredients include carrot beetroot sangrita, fresh citrus, and firewater, which makes it bright and citrusy with a touch of heat. Unlike the vodka-based Bloody Mary, this one's more of a slow-pressed juice and tequila mixture.
A nod to Esteban Morales, an agave apostle and owner of La Venenosa Raicilla (pronounced rye-see-ya), the Raicilla When I See You ($22) plays on the smoky and grassy notes of the La Venenosa Costa de Jalisco by complementing it with the sweet, sour and acidic flavours of home-made fruit shrub.
Curated mescal tasting flights are from $45 to $65 for three 30ml tasters. They are served with light bites like chilli bak kwa with parmesan and citrus flavours to balance the mescal taste.Tasting flights will be rotated weekly but don't be shy to ask the bartender for the low-down if bespoke tasting flights pique your curiosity. As of now, there is one slanted towards novices to agave spirits, which we reckon is a pleasant welcome orientation to kickstart your journey.
Feeling peckish? Order authentic street style tacos ($7 each or $20 for three) with a side of chips and a dollop of salsa or guacamole ($7 each or $12 for both).
The walls are adorned with black and white photographs depicting street scenes in Oaxaca and Jalisco from Australia-based global mescal ambassador and tequila legend, Phil Bayly. Some were shot during Baylyl’s travels in Mexico, others set in the 1910s are from a film roll he collected from a local photographer.
With less than a dozen patrons fighting for the bartender’s attention, consider it an opportunity to immerse in a spirit and cocktail education at the new after-work haunt between Wednesday and Saturday, from 7pm till midnight. That is provided that you can get in.
Junior is located at 43 Tanjong Pagar Road, Singapore 088464. For more information, keep your peepers peeled for social media updates or call 8121 1462.